Financial News

  • 3 December 2013, 5:15

Cameron In China: Human Rights 'Discussed'

Prime Minister David Cameron has denied soft-pedalling on human rights in China to improve his chances of securing business deals for Britain.

On a three-day visit with six ministers and 100 business people, the largest-ever British mission of its kind, Mr Cameron said the UK was the Western country most open to Chinese investment and well-placed to take advantage of China's market liberalisation.

"China's transformation is one of the defining facts of our lifetime ... I see China's rise as an opportunity, not just for the people of this country but for Britain and the world," Mr Cameron told reporters after meeting Premier Li Keqiang at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

Mr Lialso indicated that China is interested in investment opportunities in Britain, particularly the HS2 rail link and nuclear power stations in the UK.

Mr Cameron championed aChina-EU trade deal,which could be worth 1.8bn to the UK alone.

But as business deals took centre stage, Mr Cameron came under pressure in a round of TV interviews over the low profile he has given to Beijing's poor human-rights record.

It was in stark contrast to the spotlight shone on Sri Lanka's alleged abuses when the Prime Minster attended the Commonwealth summit there last month.

China is widely thought to have blocked a visit by Mr Cameron earlier this year in retaliation for him meeting the Dalai Lama in London in 2012, relenting only after the PM told the House of Commons that Britain does not support Tibetan independence.

Neither Mr Cameron nor Mr Li mentioned Tibet directly in public statements following the talks, but Mr Li said he "appreciated" the Mr Cameron's confirmation that the UK respects China's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Mr Cameron later insisted that he had raised human rights during talks with both Mr Li and President Xi Jinping, pointing to an "important" agreement to restart the human rights discussion next year.

"I don't believe there is a choice between raising growth and investment issues or raising human rights issues. I raised them both," he said.

"That's what a policy of engagement is all about.

"There are some huge opportunities here in China for British jobs, British growth, British investment, and I want to make the most of them, and that is right for our country to compete and succeed in the global race."

Asked if he had specifically mentioned Tibet or China's imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo in the talks, Mr Cameron said: "We spoke about all those issues as I always do. Whenever I come to China, I always raise human rights issues and I continue to do that on this visit."

He added: "The British policy towards Tibet is unchanged. I have met the Dalai Lama as leader of the opposition, I have met him as Prime Minister, I don't have plans to meet him again.

"But my diary is for me to decide."

Sky's China Correspondent Mark Stone, in Beijing, said: "Mr Cameron knows that open criticism of China or endorsement of its opponents is fatal for political co-operation. For British business to fully harness the opportunities in China, political harmony is vital.

"British investment into China is a necessity for David Cameron. That's why he won't lecture them about their human-rights record."

Mr Cameron spent much of the day championing a multibillion-dollar free-trade agreement between the European Union and China, casting Britain as far more progressive on trade than other EU member states.

"Some in Europe and elsewhere see the world changing and want to shut China off behind a bamboo curtain of trade barriers. Britain wants to tear those barriers down," Mr Cameron told reporters.

His approach irritated the European Commission, which is privately understood to oppose a trade deal on the grounds that it risks flooding the 28-nation bloc with cheap Chinese imports.

Mr Li characterised the talks as "highly productive" and said the countries had become "indispensable partners for each other's development".

Some of the business deals struck on the first day of the trip included a 4.5bn order for 100,000 Jaguar Land Rover vehicles and a 200m Sino-British innovation and research fund for science.

And a raft of co-operation agreements were signed, covering issues ranging from tackling cross-border crime to healthcare and patents, as well as a digital and media alliance which Downing Street believes could open up 2bn of opportunities for British companies.

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